Registered Nurse (RN) Careers

Curious about a career as a registered nurse? Explore the career paths, salaries, and job outlooks for the many different roles in this diverse field of nursing.

Registered Nurse Job Description

Registered nurses, or RNs, are those that you typically see in hospitals and clinical settings providing care for patients and working alongside doctors. RNs can be found checking on patients, administering treatments, and keeping medical records. Often, an RN can be a head nurse, working closely with doctors and patients, administering medications, and teaching patients and the community the best ways to live a healthy lifestyle. Registered nurses need to have compassion and patience, along with strong communication and leadership skills. Physical stamina will also play a role as nurses often work long hours and must be on the move frequently.

Becoming a registered nurse requires more education than their LPN counterparts. Qualifications to become a Registered Nurse include completing a nursing degree, which is usually an associate's or bachelor's degree, and completing the National Council of State Boards of Nursing's NCLEX-RN exam.

Registered Nurse Job Duties

Registered nurses have many daily tasks ahead of them, and no two days are ever the same. RN job duties and responsibilities typically include a lot of time with both patients and doctors. Often acting as a liaison between the doctor and the patient and patient's family, you'll spend a lot of time administering treatment and medications, as well as teaching patients how to care for themselves. Some of the other tasks you may find yourself doing include:

  • Explaining at-home treatment
  • Keeping patient records
  • Monitoring equipment
  • Completing diagnostic tests, such as taking blood
  • Advocating for patients' treatment and comfort
  • Taking and assessing vitals
  • Educating patients about disease prevention
  • Counting medications
  • Changing dressings or wraps
  • Taking notes on illness or injury
  • Consulting with doctors and specialists
  • Inserting IVs and catheters
  • Suctioning and -ostomy care

Career Outlook for Registered Nurses

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career outlook for registered nurses is positive. The BLS estimates that employment of registered nurses will grow 15% between 2016 and 2026. That's an additional 438,100 RN jobs across the nation. However, depending on the environment and industry you plan to work in, the outlook may vary. The states that had the most registered nurses in 2017 were California, Texas, New York, and Florida.

There are also advancement opportunities for registered nurses that also have very high job outlooks in the future.

Types of Jobs for Registered Nurses

While RNs have many duties, these may change depending on the industry or specialty you choose to work in. There are several nursing specialties available, so let's take a look at some of those below.

Job Job Description Average Salary*
Registered Nurse Clinicians Focus on improving patient care and facilities. $73,550 (all registered nurses)
Pediatric Registered Nurses Work with children typically under the age of 18. $ 67,490
NICU Registered Nurses Work in the neonatal intensive care units with newborn babies. $60,763
Neonatal Registered Nurses Work with newborns up to roughly 28 days old. These babies are often premature or in need of specialized care. $67,490 annually for all registered nurses
Hospice Residential Nurse Provide care to those at the end of life. Comfort care is really the focus of these nurses. $71,000
Critical Care Registered Nurses Work in the intensive care unit (ICU) with patients who must be monitored closely and are sometimes on the verge of death because of disease, illness, or injury. $67,490 annually for registered nurses
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists CRNAs administer anesthetics prior to, during, and after procedures and operations. $157,140 for all nurse anesthetists
RN Case Managers Work in a variety of settings, advocating for patients and working with families and medical centers for the best care in and out of the hospital. $66,532 for nurse case managers
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners Can act as doctors, assessing, diagnosing, and treating medical issues. Also can specialize in areas such as oncology, pediatrics, women's health, and mental health. $98,190 for all nurse practitioners

*Source: bls.gov (2017)

Alternative Careers for Registered Nurses

Becoming a registered nurse down not mean you are relegated to working in a hospital or clinical setting. Often, RNs choose a different career path. Here are just a few of those options:

  • Registered nurse paralegals are like consultants for legal offices and law firms. Often, an attorney will hire someone who has both nursing education and legal education to make sure that the laws are followed and that all medical terms are understood. You'll be an important part of malpractice lawsuits for both sides of the legal system.
  • School nurses work in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. These roles are typically meant to just diagnose a student for further treatment if necessary. Small injuries and illnesses can also be a regular part of your day. To become a school nurse, you'll need to become a registered nurse, and then consider the National Board for Certification of School Nurses (NBCSN) licensing.
  • Pharmaceutical nurses do not work directly with patients. Typically, you'll use your nursing knowledge to help sell pharmaceuticals to doctors and hospitals. Your background will allow you to educate doctors and other representatives to the medical and healthcare system benefits.
  • Traveling nurses are an interesting alternative for nurses. You'll go to hospitals and areas that are experiencing nursing shortages, working short stints at these clinics and hospitals until the need has been filled. Typically, you receive pay, housing costs, and travel costs for your help.
  • As a health teacher, you can work in middle and secondary schools to teach students about safety, nutrition, and health promotion. Typically, teachers must have a bachelor's degree and be certified with the state's Board of Education.